Car & Driver Leads Circ Meltdown, AutoWeek Gains

The latest circ numbers are in and the picture, well, here’s the rundown…

My sources comprised published USPS 3526 Statements of Ownership and Circulation, and where none were available, estimates derived from those in the know (more on that later).

CPI tracked figures from years 2007 and 2008 for 27 publications’ 3526s. From this group, newsstand penetration dropped 12.1% followed by subs at 2.91%, a blended drop of 4.6% across the board. While the percentages may not seem onerous, take a look at the gross numbers: 157K subscribers and 132K newsstand vanished and likely never to be reclaimed. The biggest loser among this group was Source Interlink’s Modified, losing over 30% in total circ over a twelve month period. In fact, SI earns the dubious distinction of having nine place holders in the biggest loser segment comprising the aforementioned Modified along with Super Street (-23.52%), Eurotuner (-22.45%), 4-Wheel & Off Road (-18.8%), Honda Tuning (-14.5%), 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords (-13.49%), 4 Wheel Drive & Sport Utility (-10.16%), and Truck Trend(-9.86%). Of the 15 SI titles I was able to obtain consecutive year 3526s, the challenged publishers lost a whopping 222K total circ: 124K subs and 98K from the newsstand.

Among the leading consumer titles, aka the Fab Four (see accompanying chart), Car & Driverleads the pack over a one year period by shedding 5.6% of its paid circ, or close to 74,000 pairs of eyeballs not counting, ahem, pass along readership. Some 58K of the total were lost in paid subs and the balance 14K and change to the newsstand.

Road & Tracktakes the silver with a 3.63% overall drop in total circ, 13K subs and nearly 12K on the newsstand.

Automobile Magazinelost 2% in total circ with the lion’s share deriving from subs with a whopping 13K reduction while newsstand saw only a modest 2K loss.

Motor Trendrounds out the pecking order with a total circ reduction of 1.65%: 11K in subs and 7K in newsstand.

But there were some winners in the group including Sports Car Market, which gained 25% in total circ, the bulk deriving from subs. Followed by Classic Motorsports with a 22.7% gain and Sports & Exotic, a 15.65% gain. Just six of the 27 mags in this group saw circ improvement. And AutoWeekimproved a respectable 7.4% in circ over the charted period. AW’s shift to bi-weekly will be covered in upcoming post though it’s early in the game to fully evaluate the frequency change’s impact on renewals and circ overall.

Turning to figures for publications where 3536s were not available and estimates were used in their place based on advertiser and reader input (magazine staffers can be a vocal bunch), the picture is solidly in the negative hemisphere. For starters, last year Rodder’s Journal (a terrific pub by the way) reported 68K total circ with 35K coming from the newsstand. Today the picture is more like total circ of 31K and it would be a cold day in June where this title, excellent as it may be, can yield higher newsstand penetration than more widely distributed consumer titles. Hemmings Motors News total circ is estimated to be off by nearly 25% as their classified ad model struggles to achieve momentum online. Old Cars Weekly also lost substantial ground to the tune of an estimated 24% drop thanks to a lack of ad traction fundamental to the title. Last but not least, there’s Automobile Quarterly, that nifty boutique coffee table read best left to another era; it lost an estimated 33% in total circ as its pricey over-the-top hard cover simply cannot make it in the face of tighter wallets and a younger audience.

Overall, between official 3526 figures and estimates, total circ among the surveyed automotive titles dropped 8%.

What the figures don’t tell us is the true nature of circ quality. In other words, what methods have publishers used to maintain rate base? I just renewed a bunch of subs at rates well below last year’s. And new sub initiatives pull out all the stops to capture a “paid” reader. Therein lies the dilemma: “Bill Me Later” subs can be counted among the paid group for purposes of 3526 reporting. End result: reported circ numbers are not an accurate barometer of a publication’s financial well being.

There you have it. Check CPI’s latest roster of publications stat’s and circ numbers for more.

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There Are 4 Responses So Far. »

  1. They all play the circ game with inflated numbers. advertising volume will make or break these publications!

  2. Betcha a nickel that ABCJ will pick up Business Week, to compliment the fun times at Sporting News.

    Then again, given the death of their chairman this weekend, maybe not.

  3. Next on my list for blog posts, thanks for the reminder. With all due respect to the departed, it wouldn’t surprise if ACBJ made a repeat wrong turn and acquired BW. They paid a wild premium for underproducing Hemmings a few years back.

  4. what about ad revenues… those numbers are a train wreck!

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